White-necked Raven (Corvus albicollis)

Cover image of White-Necked Raven by Zenobia van Dyk – Nyika National Park, Malawi – BirdPix No. 160639

Ravens belong to the Family CORVIDAE along with crows, Jays, Magpies etc. The family is known for their intelligence and for containing the largest of the passerines. Corvids are also the only passerine birds with the ability to soar.


The White-necked Raven is a large and distinctive black corvid. It is a conspicuous, aerial and vocal species which is unlikely to be overlooked.

They are easily recognised by the white collar or crescent on the hind neck and the otherwise entirely glossy black plumage. The sexes are alike in plumage but females are slightly larger than males. In flight, the broad wings and short, rounded tail are characteristic. The bill is distinctive, appearing heavy with an arched profile and a pale tip. The black legs are moderately long with large, strong feet.

Identification White-necked Raven
White-necked Raven (Corvus albicollis)
Addo Elephant National Park, Eastern Cape
Photo by Gregg Darling

Juveniles are browner than the adults and have a narrow, whitish breast band. The white feathers on the hind neck are sometimes also flecked with black.

Corvus albicollis
Immature White-necked Raven (Corvus albicollis)
Monk’s Cowl Nature Reserve, KwaZulu-Natal
Photo by Andries de Vries

The white necked raven can only be mistaken for the smaller Pied Crow (Corvus albus) and Cape Crow (Corvus capensis). It is easily separated from the Pied crow by the latter’s white (not black) breast. Cape Crows are more slightly built, with slender bills, and are entirely black, lacking the white hind neck.

White-necked Raven
White-necked Raven (Corvus albicollis)
Carnarvon district, Northern Cape
Photo by Rick Nuttall

Status and Distribution

The White-necked Raven is a locally common resident. It is patchily distributed from Kenya to South Africa. In southern Africa it is confined mainly to the east, south and south-west. The range of this species in southern Africa corresponds closely with the distribution of cliffs. The White-necked Raven is absent from most of southern Mozambique due to a general lack of suitable habitat. They occur in both semi-arid and higher rain fall environments but avoid the most arid parts of the region. This would explain its absence from much of the northern Karoo, Botswana and Namibia.

SABAP2 distribution White-necked Raven
SABAP2 distribution map for White-necked Raven (Corvus albicollis) – download in May 2024.
Details for map interpretation can be found here.

The White-necked Raven is not threatened. The species occurs in good numbers throughout its present southern African range, and is well represented in protected areas. They are sometimes directly persecuted because of a rumoured tendency to molest or even kill young or sick sheep. White-necked Ravens are also vulnerable to poisoning as a non-target scavenger.


Habitat White-necked Raven
Semi-arid mountainous habitat.
Near Carnarvon, Northern Cape
Photo by Ryan Tippett

White-necked Ravens are almost exclusively cliff nesters. As a result they are largely restricted to mountainous and hilly terrain where nest and roost sites are plentiful. They often forage over adjacent open plains and farmlands, especially stock farming rangelands and less often in crop-farming areas. White-necked Ravens may sometimes forage at open areas in and around towns and cities, but not as frequently as other corvids.

Habitat White-necked Raven
High mountainous habitat in the Drakensberg.
Sani Pass, Kwazulu-Natal
Photo by Ryan Tippett


White-necked Ravens are usually encountered solitarily or in pairs. It is a sedentary, resident species, although some birds may move to lower altitudes in winter. They sometimes congregate in flocks of up to 150 at a good food source during the non-breeding season. They are often seen in the company of other scavengers like crows, kites and vultures. White-necked Ravens are opportunistic and are sometimes attracted to veld fires in the hope of catching prey fleeing from the flames.

Corvus albicollis
White-necked Raven (Corvus albicollis)
Nyika National Park, Malawi
Photo by Gary Brown

Forages most frequently by soaring, but also seeks out food while walking on the ground, especially after fires and at rubbish dumps, livestock pastures and sports fields.

Corvus albicollis
White-necked Raven (Corvus albicollis)
Wartburg, KwaZulu-Natal
Photo by Malcolm Robinson

White neck Ravens are omnivorous and eat reptiles, birds, small mammals, bird eggs and insects like locusts and beetles. Also carrion, fruit and cereal grains, including maize, and groundnuts. They sometimes also feed on the nectar of large Aloes. White-necked Ravens scavenge readily and are usually first to arrive at carcasses, they also regularly patrol roads in search of roadkill. Small tortoises are a favourite prey and are carried in the feet or bill, where they are dropped onto flat rocks below to break open the shells. White-necked Ravens have also been recorded feeding on ticks taken from cattle. They are very intelligent and have been recorded caching food items in patches of tall grass.

White-necked Raven
White-necked Raven (Corvus albicollis)
Near Nature’s Valley, Western Cape
Photo by Lia Steen

White-necked Ravens have been recorded breeding from July to December throughout southern Africa. They are monogamous, and territorial when nesting. As they are aggressive birds, they often dispute territorial rights with other cliff nesting species.

Corvus albicollis
White-necked Raven (Corvus albicollis) mobbing a Verreaux’s Eagle (Aquila verreauxii)
Calvinia district, Northern Cape
Photo by Tino Herselman

The nest is a large bowl of sticks, lined with grass, hair and wool etc. Nests are placed on inaccessible ledges or in potholes on cliffs. Nests are rarely placed in trees. Clutch sizes range from 2 to 5 eggs. As with other corvids, incubation begins once the first egg has been laid. This results in the chicks hatching at different times. The incubation period last for around 21 days and is usually shared by both sexes. Chicks are fed entirely by the female, at first by regurgitation, then solid food is provided for them later. The female keeps the nest clean by swallowing the young chick’s faeces. Once the chicks are a bit older they defecate over the nest sides. The young are fully fledged around 38 days after hatching.

Corvus albicollis
White-necked Raven (Corvus albicollis)
Sani road, KwaZulu-Natal
Photo by Pamela Kleiman

Further Resources

Species text in first Southern African Bird Atlas Project (SABAP1), 1997.

The use of photographs by Andries de Vries, Gary Brown, Gregg Darling, Karis Daniel, Lia Steen, Malcolm Robinson, Pamela Kleiman, Rick Nuttall, Tino Herselman and Zenobia van Dyk is acknowledged.

Virtual Museum (BirdPix > Search VM > By Scientific or Common Name).

Other common names: Withalskraai (Afrikaans); iHubulu, iWabayi (Zulu); lhlungulu, Irhwababa, Umfundisi (Xhosa); Lekhoaba (South Sotho); Corbeau à nuque blanche (French); Geierrabe (German); Witnekraaf (Dutch); Corvo-das-montanhas (Portuguese)

Recommended citation format: Tippett RM 2024. White-necked Raven Corvus albicollis. Biodiversity and Development Institute. Available online at https://thebdi.org/2024/05/24/white-necked-raven-corvus-albicollis/

Bird identificationbirding

White-necked Raven
White-necked Raven (Corvus albicollis)
Near Pearly Beach, Western Cape
Photo by Karis Daniel
Ryan Tippett
Ryan Tippett
Ryan is an enthusiastic contributor to Citizen Science and has added many important and interesting records of fauna and flora. He has been a member of the Virtual Museum since 2014 and has currently submitted over 12,000 records. He is on the expert identification panel for the OdonataMAP project. Ryan is a well-qualified and experienced Field Guide, and Guide Training Instructor. He has spent the last 18 years in the guiding and tourism industries. Ryan loves imparting his passion and knowledge onto others, and it is this that drew him into guide training in particular. Something that he finds incredibly rewarding is seeing how people he's had the privilege of teaching have developed and gone on to greater things. His interests are diverse and include Dragonflies, Birding, Arachnids, Amphibians, wild flowers and succulents, free diving and experiencing big game on foot. With this range of interests, there is always likely be something special just around the corner!